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Trails Make Conservation Tangible
We "should form a framework of parks and forests connected by a series of paths and trails for general outdoor living," wrote landscape planner and conservationist Benton MacKaye in the early 20th century. MacKaye's vision was realized when a footpath was created that linked local, state and national parks and forests across mountaintops and through communities between 14 states.
That footpath is called the Appalachian Trail, one of the country's — if not the world's — most famous trails, a path that has inspired widespread conservation of our country's forests and streams and, moreover, inspired outdoor exploration and the rejuvenation that it offers to body and soul.
Likewise, in 1903, Frederick Law Olmsted — considered by many as the father of landscape architecture in America — stated that "a connected system of parks and parkways is manifestly far more complete and useful than a series of isolated parks." Early on, Olmsted and MacKaye — among many others — knew the value of connecting our parks and natural areas. A century later, this concept of connectivity rings more true than ever.
In Western North Carolina, trails are the conduits that enable you to get out onto the landscapes that have been protected. They let you see them, smell them, touch them. Trails enable you to immerse yourself in those landscapes and their resources. And once you experience the countless benefits of protected natural lands firsthand, you'll likely need no further convincing of the critical importance of conservation. In most cases, it is a trail that will get you there.
While trails are physically narrow and linear, their impacts are wide and exponential. According to the National Park Service's report "Trails for All Americans," trails are far more than simple tools for enjoying the outdoors. Trails can enrich the quality of life for individuals, make communities more livable, and protect, nurture and showcase America's grandeur by traversing areas of natural beauty, distinctive geography, historic significance and ecological diversity. The report unequivocally concludes: "Trails are important for the nation's health, economy, resource protection and education."
It is no wonder why Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy has embraced trails as part of its mission to protect land and water resources in Western North Carolina. Trails effectively demonstrate the relevancy and importance of regional conservation efforts. Trails enable residents and visitors to experience our protected places, up close and personal.
See where CMLC is advancing trails in our region to create a higher quality of life and to protect — and highlight — its precious natural resources.
Hickory Nut Gorge trails
Teeming with towering cliffs, scenic waterfalls and long-range views, the Hickory Nut Gorge boasts some of the most dramatic landscapes and awe-inspiring scenery in all of the southern Appalachians. Despite this treasure trove of natural wonders, the opportunity to revel amid its picturesque beauty has long been inhibited by treacherous terrain, lack of public access and an absence of footpaths.
CMLC and community partners are striving to make the inaccessibility of HNG a thing of the past. Following the placement of a conservation easement atop scenic Bearwallow Mountain in 2009, CMLC purchased a right-of-way for public access to its summit and then constructed — in partnership with the Carolina Mountain Club — a one-mile hiking trail up the peak. The trail is now one of the most popular new outdoor destinations for hikers in the region.
The permanent protection — 165 acres now under conservation easement — and accessibility of Bearwallow Mountain is only the beginning of broader public access plans in HNG. This trail is the first segment of the budding Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trail, a 12-mile hiking loop that will connect it to other conserved lands in upper HNG, including CMLC's 600-acre Florence Nature Preserve.
Long-term plans call for the trail network to extend the entire length of the gorge from Bearwallow Mountain to trails in Chimney Rock State Park.
Lake Lure Summits trail
The Summits Trail is a circuitous hiking and biking route planned for the high ridges that frame picturesque Lake Lure at the mouth of HNG. The system will one day link Chimney Rock State Park, including the dramatic cliffs of Rumbling Bald, to CMLC's 1,325-acre Weed Patch Mountain tract and the Town of Lake Lure's 200-acre Buffalo Creek Park. As much as 20 miles in length when complete, it will also incorporate the town's Donald Ross Nature Trail as well as new parkland on Youngs Mountain just acquired by Rutherford County in June — a purchase facilitated by CMLC.
French Broad River greenways
CMLC, Sierra Nevada, local governments and other community organizations have begun assessing the feasibility of a greenway that could parallel the French Broad River in Henderson County, building on Buncombe County's efforts to the north. The path would make it possible to walk or bike between WNC communities including Asheville, Fletcher, Mills River and Etowah.
CMLC and other partners have begun by seeking federal and state funding to construct a multi-use loop trail in Henderson County's Westfeldt Park, adjacent to the river. A segment of that trail could become the first section of the greenway along the river in Henderson County, and pave the way — literally — for its extension along the banks of the FBR.
Henderson County greenways and blueways
Plans for greenways along the French Broad River are not the only linear parks to benefit county residents and visitors. Henderson County already hosts the Oklawaha Greenway in Hendersonville and Cane Creek Greenway in Fletcher. The land acquisition for the latter was facilitated by CMLC in 2004, which has continued working with the town of Fletcher in the decade since to expand and improve the greenway system.
The frequent overcrowding of our local greenways not only suggests that these resources are well utilized and beloved, but that more such paths are needed in our region.
While trails are most frequently associated with pedestrian use, rivers are also a form of trails. Called "blueways," water routes available to the public permit outdoor recreationists the same opportunity to enjoy natural resources as do terrestrial paths. Asheville-based nonprofits Western North Carolina Alliance and RiverLink have constructed a series of campsites as part of the French Broad River Paddle Trail to encourage river-lovers to take multi-day trips on the water, just as a backpacker would on a hiking trail.
French Broad River greenways and blueways between Henderson and Buncombe counties aren't the only proposed trails that could one day link parks and connect communities. The Friends of the Ecusta Trail is spearheading an effort to connect downtown Hendersonville to Brevard via a rail-to-trail conversion.
The proposal would not only enable hiking and biking between the two cities, but would also connect Henderson County communities by trail to the hundreds of miles of trails in Pisgah National Forest, including the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Such connectivity would enable a hiker from our local towns to reach the Appalachian Trail entirely by footpath.
Even Benton MacKaye would be impressed.
by Peter Barr, CMLC Trails & Outreach Coordinator
Read more stories of CMLC’s conserved lands at www.carolinamountain.org/stories.